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The psychology of blaming the victim


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#1 swimmermom3

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 12:09 PM

Does anyone have some good sources that they could link me to with regards to the psychology of blaming the victim of a crime? I would also be curious if there are connected gender studies.

 

I started thinking about this when we had our threads on "s_ut shaming," assault and bullying, but it was really brought home to me this past weekend when a lovely young woman and mother of two young daughters was shot and killed by her estranged husband in our area. The comments on the news articles were horrible. Men and women alike were commenting on how she had it coming for marrying a guy with tattoos on his face and a criminal record. There were far more negative comments with regards to the victim than the perpetrator.

 

The backlash at female victims seems to be far more intense than that for male victims. Why?

 

Do we think by showing our disapproval that we will somehow change things?

 

What is the psychological payoff for blaming a victim?



#2 DarlaS

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 12:16 PM

I'll take a stab at a little armchair psychology.

I think it's because when someone is attacked, it highlights how very vulnerable we are--especially women. We'd like to think (even if it's erroneously) that we can avoid that happening to ourselves and our loved ones.

This vulnerability makes us feel helpless. That makes us angry. Because any one of us COULD end up trusting the wrong person, and we really would like to think WE would be too smart for that.

#3 FaithManor

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 12:42 PM

I agree with Darla. I think that by assigning blame to the victim for a variety of behavior or not seeing "the signals" or whatever, it makes all of the other women feel like it would never happen to them because they are so much wiser, better, etc. Oh, I didn't make choice A, or I would never be with a person like that, or if she just would have done this or that she would never been in this predicament, or....so since I am not in those circumstances, or I did not make those choices, or I am so much smarter than that, then it will never happen to me or my children.

 

The bottom line being of course that nothing you do or say controls the actions of an evil person bent on destruction, and you can't avoid all evil. You are probably just as vulnerable as the next person and that is an uncomfortable thought. You can take some common sense precautions, but beyond that, it's kind of a crap shoot out there. I've known plenty of "the just right people" by western Judeo-Christian standards who have been the victims of all kinds of horror. Being just so and doing just so was no protection.

 

I also believe this is a left over of a male dominated culture. Keeping women in their place for centuries has revolved around the concept of making the bad actions of males the fault of the female. It is an excellent method of psychological manipulation that both genders have bought into and one of things that always strikes me is not just that many men jump in, but very, very few will actually call the other men out for their chauvinistic attitudes and the few that do, get shouted down even by seemingly "good" and decent men. My assumption on this is that it is no easy thing, subconsciously, to abdicate that position of power within the culture. Better do join in with the women who are so cruel to each other and support their position than to stand up for the stark reality because that's easier than summoning up the courage to go against centuries of cultural bias.



#4 Arcadia

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 12:52 PM

Victim-Blaming: A New Term for an Old Trend (University of Rhode Island) 

http://digitalcommon...2&context=glbtc

 

Victim Blaming from The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime - references on page 8 and 9

http://crcvc.ca/docs...tim_blaming.pdf



#5 transientChris

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 01:00 PM

I don't post comments on sites like newspapers, news shows, etc, nor do I tend to read them since they seem to attract the worst of society.  So for what it is worth, I wouldn't be making negative comments about the victim.  I also know that plenty of estranged husbands and not even estranged husbands kill their wives or exwives and have no tattoos anywhere and no prior criminal record.  The person who is to blame is the perpetrator.   There is no other blame.  However, as a life lesson, to my kids, I could have used such a crime to talk about how you don't marry felons, you don't marry 'bad boys', and how if you are in a domestic violence situation, or you strongly fear that, you don't stay in a place the ex husband. ex boyfriend, whoever, knows and you relocate to a safe location.  But I think those people who are blaming her for her own killing just want to have a scapegoat and an easy out- don't marry bad guys and your life will be fine.  Unfortunately, while not marrying bad guys is a good idea, plenty of so called good guys turn out not to be so good. 

 

In the last year around here, we had a seemingly stably employed, softball coaching husband and dad of two kids, murder his wife and one of the kids.  From his photos, he wouldn't have raised concerns to anyone about criminality.  And yet, he did two brutal murders.  How would those same posters comment about that? Who knows but I know that I didn't read those comments nor others for other criminal stories. 



#6 RoughCollie

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 01:05 PM

I took a criminal justice class once, and the textbook discussed 4 classes of victims.  I found it interesting because I had not separated crime victims into classes before that.

 

#1  A criminal who is a victim due to his lifestyle.  (Gang member killed by member of rival gang)

 

#2  A non-criminal who hangs around with criminals on a regular basis. (Gang member's girlfriend)

 

#3  A regular person (ie, not a criminal and doesn't consort with them) who takes chances that defy common sense, and becomes a crime victim. (Drunk college student walking home alone in the wee hours)

 

#4  A totally innocent victim a/k/a one who does not fall into categories 1-3. 

 

I agree with DarlaS and FaithManor.

 

 

 

 

 



#7 albeto.

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 01:08 PM

Does anyone have some good sources that they could link me to with regards to the psychology of blaming the victim of a crime? I would also be curious if there are connected gender studies.

 

I started thinking about this when we had our threads on "s_ut shaming," assault and bullying, but it was really brought home to me this past weekend when a lovely young woman and mother of two young daughters was shot and killed by her estranged husband in our area. The comments on the news articles were horrible. Men and women alike were commenting on how she had it coming for marrying a guy with tattoos on his face and a criminal record. There were far more negative comments with regards to the victim than the perpetrator.

 

The backlash at female victims seems to be far more intense than that for male victims. Why?

 

Do we think by showing our disapproval that we will somehow change things?

 

What is the psychological payoff for blaming a victim?

 

About.com has a nice introduction to the psychological explanation of attribution bias.  We humans are hard wired to assume there is a cause between events. In social psychology, "attribution" is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors. However, when analyzing these events, we may not take into consideration enough information (indeed, pertinent information may not be available to us at the time, but the brain makes an immediate assumption anyway). Also, our perceptions of events are often distorted by our past experiences, our expectations and our own needs.

 

Interestingly, attribution bias causes us to under-estimate the importance of inanimate, situational factors over animate, human factors. In short, when we are the victim, it is because external factors are unfavorable to us. When others are the victim, internal factors (such as their behavior) is assumed to explain the event.

 

Misogyny is just an added bonus, but I wonder how much of this attribution bias is at play in a similarly unconscious way. 



#8 Lady Florida

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 01:20 PM

I think attribution bias also comes into play when people blame the poor for being poor. If I (general I, like general you or we) am poor and need food stamps or other government help it's because my husband lost his job, there are no jobs in my area, one of us has a debilitating health issue (in the U.S.), etc. When others are poor it's because they are lazy and won't take work they think is beneath them, they buy expensive convenience foods instead of cooking from scratch, they have smart phones or wear nice clothes, they keep having kids, etc.

 

People don't want to believe that "There but for the grace of God, go I." (Yes, I'm an atheist, but it's a common expression. ;) )

 



#9 Mrs Mungo

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 01:28 PM

I'll take a stab at a little armchair psychology.

I think it's because when someone is attacked, it highlights how very vulnerable we are--especially women. We'd like to think (even if it's erroneously) that we can avoid that happening to ourselves and our loved ones.

This vulnerability makes us feel helpless. That makes us angry. Because any one of us COULD end up trusting the wrong person, and we really would like to think WE would be too smart for that.


I agree.

#10 swimmermom3

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 02:44 PM

I'll take a stab at a little armchair psychology.

I think it's because when someone is attacked, it highlights how very vulnerable we are--especially women. We'd like to think (even if it's erroneously) that we can avoid that happening to ourselves and our loved ones.

This vulnerability makes us feel helpless. That makes us angry. Because any one of us COULD end up trusting the wrong person, and we really would like to think WE would be too smart for that.

 

You make a good armchair psychologist. The anger is something I am trying to understand; I've seen it here and on the news media over the weekend. If I reflect deeply enough, I have probably participated in blaming a victim as well. I think I will have my 21 yo dd read yours and FaithManor's responses. DD knew the victim, who had been a professional mentor and friend and she is trying to make sense of some of the ugliness she has read.

 

I agree with Darla. I think that by assigning blame to the victim for a variety of behavior or not seeing "the signals" or whatever, it makes all of the other women feel like it would never happen to them because they are so much wiser, better, etc. Oh, I didn't make choice A, or I would never be with a person like that, or if she just would have done this or that she would never been in this predicament, or....so since I am not in those circumstances, or I did not make those choices, or I am so much smarter than that, then it will never happen to me or my children.

 

The bottom line being of course that nothing you do or say controls the actions of an evil person bent on destruction, and you can't avoid all evil. You are probably just as vulnerable as the next person and that is an uncomfortable thought. You can take some common sense precautions, but beyond that, it's kind of a crap shoot out there. I've known plenty of "the just right people" by western Judeo-Christian standards who have been the victims of all kinds of horror. Being just so and doing just so was no protection.

 

I also believe this is a left over of a male dominated culture. Keeping women in their place for centuries has revolved around the concept of making the bad actions of males the fault of the female. It is an excellent method of psychological manipulation that both genders have bought into and one of things that always strikes me is not just that many men jump in, but very, very few will actually call the other men out for their chauvinistic attitudes and the few that do, get shouted down even by seemingly "good" and decent men. My assumption on this is that it is no easy thing, subconsciously, to abdicate that position of power within the culture. Better do join in with the women who are so cruel to each other and support their position than to stand up for the stark reality because that's easier than summoning up the courage to go against centuries of cultural bias.

 

Thank you, Faith. This is really helpful. I didn't want to tell dd that the ugly responses that she read were just a result of of ugly maliciousness (well mostly). I thought if we could look at the psychology behind the actions it would perhaps take some of the sting out of the result.



#11 swimmermom3

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 03:00 PM

Victim-Blaming: A New Term for an Old Trend (University of Rhode Island) 

http://digitalcommon...2&context=glbtc

 

Victim Blaming from The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime - references on page 8 and 9

http://crcvc.ca/docs...tim_blaming.pdf

 

Arcadia, thank you. This is exactly what I was looking for. The idea of cognitive bias, where an observer's attitude depends on the outcome, is intriguing - if that's the right word. So if the woman that was killed had had a gun and been able to wound her estranged husband, the outcome would have been positive and people would view her in a much more positive fashion?

 

Did you see the 10 Tips to End Rape?  It has never dawned on me that all the PSAs regarding rape prevention are always addressed to what women can do to protect themselves, not to men on what they can do to stop rape. There is a rather mind-bending premise behind that I need to think on for a while.

 

I was also unfamiliar with the terms"Just World Theory," and "optimism bias." How do we change a cultural phenomena where even the victim blaming themselves gives them a sense of control? How do we change the psychological benefits to victim-blaming?

 

About.com has a nice introduction to the psychological explanation of attribution bias.  We humans are hard wired to assume there is a cause between events. In social psychology, "attribution" is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors. However, when analyzing these events, we may not take into consideration enough information (indeed, pertinent information may not be available to us at the time, but the brain makes an immediate assumption anyway). Also, our perceptions of events are often distorted by our past experiences, our expectations and our own needs.

 

Interestingly, attribution bias causes us to under-estimate the importance of inanimate, situational factors over animate, human factors. In short, when we are the victim, it is because external factors are unfavorable to us. When others are the victim, internal factors (such as their behavior) is assumed to explain the event.

 

Misogyny is just an added bonus, but I wonder how much of this attribution bias is at play in a similarly unconscious way. Thank you for the links. There is a good deal to think about here.

 

This is a fascinating piece of the puzzle and yes, misogyny was definitely at play in many of the responses we read.



#12 PeacefulChaos

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 11:52 PM

I had a random thought today that made me think of this thread - not trying to derail it, but bear with me...

Going along with the 'victim blaming' mentality, but in a totally different sense -- I have also found that people (in general) tend to blame a spouse who gets cheated on.  I can think of two different scenarios in my head and in one, people began to say things like, 'I never did like ___ anyway.  I knew s/he was trouble.'  Though clearly that WASN'T the case - they were just trying to make themselves feel better about someone they trusted/cared about/whatever doing something they didn't understand.  They also started throwing blame at the spouse, 'Well, obviously ___ didn't spend enough time at home instead of working.  If s/he would have, this wouldn't have happened.  And we actually trusted them!!'  

Other times, I hear things like, 'Well, if I was married to ___, I'd cheat too!  S/he's so difficult!'  Are you kidding me??  

 

So has this always been the norm, as well?  And I've seen the same responses equally between genders in this case, so I don't think there is any leftover patriarchal stuff there.  Is it just a case of trying to explain behavior that they didn't understand?  Or do people still believe that it takes 2 people to make a marriage work AND 2 people to make one fail -- as opposed to what I believe is the case, when it takes only ONE person to make a marriage fail?  

 

Sorry for the tangent.  



#13 albeto.

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 01:09 AM

How do we change a cultural phenomena where even the victim blaming themselves gives them a sense of control? How do we change the psychological benefits to victim-blaming?

 

By understanding what is going on, we have the ability to address it more effectively than just guessing, and assuming we're right because we feel we are right. We can gain understanding through research. What we know is that as intelligent creatures, we simply do assign intent and causation between events. That's as natural as finding youth and healthiness attractive. It's hard wired into us. Evolutionary biology explains this in that people who are more apt to attribute cause between events are more likely to be prepared for future events. In short, it's an advantageous behavior even if we are not aware of it.

 

But it's not a rational thought process. It's often irrational (black cats should be avoided, number 13 is unlucky, rape victims are to blame). Knowing our brains are hard wired to make these assumptions allows us to think about these events in a logical, analytic way. We can apply logical thinking skills to the event rather than depend on our opinions. Instincts are notoriously unreliable, but logical, critical analysis can be applied with less emotional and personal bias, and can be discussed rationally with others. So the more we know, the more effective the solutions we can come up with.

 

For example, we can put more attention to teaching people to identify bully behavior, and identify it in less positive ways. Of course, we can only affect the culture around us so much, but we can teach our kids to be critical thinkers, to be skeptical when presented with ideas, to look to information rather than rationalize emotion when facing various ideas. 



#14 gardenmom5

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 01:44 AM

I don't think it's just crime victims that get blamed - but anyone that experiences misfortune.  there is always someone who is blaming them for the bad things that come into their life. (could be illness, wayward child, unemployement, ect.)   I agree it is the delusion that if bad things only happen to people who make bad choices, then they *think* bad things won't happen to them.  (because they 'never' make 'bad choices'.  uh huh.)   denial isn't a river in egypt.




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